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Will AI Make Medical Writers Obsolete?

Will AI Make Medical Writers Obsolete?

  • Reading time:5 mins read

This is the first blog in a series investigating the emerging and fast-changing role of AI in medical communications, the pharmaceutical industry, and healthcare. We will investigate the opportunities, drawbacks, and impact of this developing technology.

Medical writers play a critical role in conveying scientific information in a variety of settings; from preparation of sales training and marketing materials, to more technical pieces such as journal articles and regulatory documents. With the rapid development and adoption of generative artificial intelligence (AI), should medical writers be concerned that their role will become obsolete?

Generative AI is described by McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group as a set of algorithms capable of creating new content such as audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos.

Within the medical writing space, generative AI has, in theory, countless applications. For example, it could be used to summarise complex medical literature and even act as a co-author on manuscripts.

Perhaps the most widely known AI is ChatGPT, a generative AI chatbot built and trained on large language models (GPT-3 and GPT-4) that can generate text based on user entered prompts. Despite only launching to the public in late November 2022, ChatGPT has taken the academic world by storm.

The quality of output from ChatGPT has already proven to be of high standard, with researchers in one study unable to differentiate between ChatGPT-generated manuscript abstracts and real published abstracts.

The capabilities of generative AI and the ethical implications of its use for authorship in academia have prompted prominent journals to fast track the publication of AI-specific guidelines, although their approaches vary.

Nature does not permit ChatGPT or other large language models to be listed as an author but does allow their use to be mentioned in the methods section. In contrast, Science prohibits all use of content generated using artificial intelligence in submissions.

Despite the unquestionably impressive technology, there remain intrinsic limitations in generative AI, highlighting the importance of a medical writer.

Firstly, generative AI relies on data-driven algorithms, which means it may struggle with understanding context beyond its training parameters.

In medical writing, this limitation becomes significant as AI-generated content may exhibit bias, scientific inaccuracies (including the use of non-existent references), or a lack of critical analysis. Medical writers are expected not only to write effectively but also to possess a thorough understanding of scientific concepts.

Secondly, generative AI may develop content that struggles to capture empathy with patient groups, and fail to deliver text with a nuanced, patient-centred tone. Medical writers play a crucial role in producing writing with an empathetic and human touch, while still having thorough technical understanding. For example, when writing marketing copy for a new drug or medical device, ChatGPT may lack the emotional awareness of a treatments significance for a targeted patient group, and may generate content that does not align with the brand’s voice.

While ChatGPT and generative AI may not render medical writers obsolete, medical writers can look to embrace the potential of AI to streamline their workflow. Instead of being a threat, generative AI may prove to be an exciting opportunity to optimise content.

AI could act as a powerful brainstorming tool, a proofreading aid, or a valuable tool to summarise data from multiple sources. It may even help writers overcome the dreaded writers block by providing some initial pointers to get started.

By adopting and learning to integrate generative AI into their writing process, medical writers can leverage AI to deliver higher-quality work. In this way, generative AI becomes a valuable tool for medical writers, allowing them to enhance their output and efficiency.

At Elion Medical Communication, we support medical communications agencies and pharmaceutical and medical device companies with medical writing services. While we find AI intriguing, at this stage it lacks the human voice and we have yet to figure out quite where it fits with what we do. You can rest assured that all our writing is done by humans, for humans!

Adrian Lau